By J. STEVEN DILLON
Wes Dickerson savors mornings like Friday’s in Findlay, clear, cool, with a slight breeze.
Near-perfect conditions, he said, for a hot air balloon ride over Hancock County to launch the 15th annual Flag City BalloonFest at Emory Adams Park.
The owner and pilot of the Fore balloon, sponsored by Alternative Management Resources, Dickerson figures he has flown at least 1,200 times since his first balloon ride in 1980.
It never gets old.
“When I get tired of this, I guess I’ll just stop,” he said, passing over lush farmland just west of Findlay. “I’m just not there yet. This is still a lot of fun.”
Dickerson, of Milford, Michigan, brought his balloon and three of his four crew members, Tim Griffith, Gabi and Ray Bresett, with him to BalloonFest. The fourth hand Friday was Mark Bendele of Columbus Grove.
All became acquainted long ago through hot air balloon shows and, now, after years and years of practice, they make launches and landings look and feel routine.
Not often, but occasionally, there are bumps, like the time Dickerson was forced to land in a farm field where a woman was excited to see a hot air balloon up close, but her husband was not.
The situation eventually got worked out, but not before the farmer threatened to seize Dickerson’s balloon. Authorities, including the FBI, were called to the scene.
Later, the farmer and Dickerson became friends.
Friday morning’s balloon launches, giving rides to members of the media, went off without a hitch. Dickerson’s black, yellow and orange balloon rose gently, the second of 10 or so balloons to ascend.
Once at 1,200 feet or so, the balloon coasted along at 20 mph, riding a breeze north and west. The ride was smooth and silent, except for occasional loud “swooshes” from above when Dickerson would open propane burners to heat the air inside the balloon.
Closer to the ground, where tree leaves weren’t moving, the balloon’s speed dropped to about 10 mph.
Startled deer were visible from above as they leaped through cornfields.
The views from every direction and angle were picture-perfect. While miles to the west, Leipsic’s Pro-Tec plant was well within sight.
The landing, just south of McComb, was also smooth, once the crew befriended a rottweiler. The property owner wasn’t put off by finding three balloons in his recently harvested wheat field.
“As long as you’re not Russian terrorists, it’s OK,” the man said as he pulled up in his pickup truck.
Dickerson, a retired engineer, hits balloon shows mostly in the Midwest, and has been coming to the Flag City Balloonfest for several years.
Findlay’s is one of his favorites.
“Findlay does it right,” he said. “They really take good care of the balloonists and the crowds always come out. That keeps a lot of us coming back.”
Friday morning’s flights were the kickoff of the three-day event. Various activities are scheduled through the weekend at Emory Adams Park, including a mass launch, balloon illumination and fireworks show today. The event is free and open to the public.
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